PTSD Spirituality: Why Deny the Possibility of PTSD?

Why do PTSD-sufferers sometimes refuse to admit they have PTSD?  Some trauma survivors will deny they have PTSD.  Their PTSD-coping behaviors damage themselves and their most important relationships, but they refuse the possibility of PTSD even though they have survived trauma.  At times, someone who earlier recognized they may have PTSD may later deny it.  What gives here?  What follows is not so much an essay as quick thoughts written during my latest round of insomnia.

For Military-based PTSD:

  • PTSD stigma is a liability, a risk, career damaging.
  • We don’t want to admit to the vulnerability or the perceived weakness of a non-physical wound.
  • We don’t want to hear accusations of faking it, or just looking for pity and money.
  • We don’t want to be criticized or scoffed at by toxic people who will minimize or outright deny our trauma and subsequent PTSD.

Troops fear the stigma of PTSD on their career.  If they report the effects of stress they may, depending on their unit commander, lose their security clearance or job specialty.  They are in-effect being told they are no longer the complete soldier they were before the trauma…this damages our identity.

Some Effects of Denial:

If a person remains in denial they will avoid treatment in those cases where treatment might be available.  This will result in quite a few situations that could have been avoided with treatment:

  • Worsening of the problem in and of itself.
  • Alienation and loss of important relationships.
  • Deterioration of job performance, then disciplined for the decline.
  • Embrace of more negative, dangerous coping behaviors.

Anecdotally, denial and refusal to admit that one may have PTSD is highest among those suffering from military trauma.  The civilian public, and even some members of the military, will reject the possibility of someone’s military PTSD because the causes do not align with what the popular mindset defines as traditional combat experience.

Denial of Domestic Sexual or Gun Abuse

Amongst (and again, anecdotally) those who suffered sexual abuse, many deny they have PTSD.  This results from the elements of guilt, humiliation, downgrading of the circumstances, and public doubt of the actual occurrence of the trauma.

Survivors may experience a range of denial responses from the public.  They may deal with indifference as to how the public responds to sexual crimes.  They may actually be blamed for being the victims of the trauma themselves, because their clothes were too revealing, or they we not escorted by a man.  The public often inflicts similar attitudes against victims of incest, sibling abuse, and abuse perpetrated by clergy, coaches, or teachers.

Like gun violence, sexual violence will generate some loud chest thumping and rhetoric, but little will get done about it.  The survivors of these forms of violence will quickly recognize the empty crocodile tears shed over their suffering.

Denial Because We Are Tired of Others’ Denials

As foreshadowed above, sometimes we may deny we have PTSD because we cannot deal with yet another know-nothing individual saying that PTSD does not exist, or that we are just faking it, or they think we are trying to register a false claim in the hope we may see some money.

And, there are those who feel they somehow have the right to ask us all sorts of personal questions about our trauma.  They add salt to this invasive wound by  discounting our trauma and PTSD.  Why? Because they know someone who went through something ten times worse and that person is just fine…so how could you or I have a problem with PTSD?

If they actually do know someone who has been through something ten times worse and their attitudes with them are as intrusive and as judgmental as the ones they use on you or I, then no wonder their “friend” would refuse to confide in them.

Avoiding Treatment by Avoiding Diagnosis

We may deny PTSD because then it might mean that we would feel obligated to try and heal from its ravages.  Some folks do not want to go to the doctor for fear of what the doctor might tell them.  If they can avoid a diagnosis then they feel they don’t have to act on these symptoms.

Regardless of the Source of the Trauma

To realize that we have a breaking point, a point where traumatic stress overwhelmed us, is a hard truth to grapple with.  It can often provoke deep shame or a sense of weakness within us.

For those of us with a military background, we often imbibed the notion that nothing was bigger than we are.  Now we find we are broken.  Not because we choose to be broken (who ever really does?), but because like a broken bone we have no choice about, the traumatic stress has broken something within us.

The same applies to those who survive sexual assault and or survive the tragic loss of someone they love and care about.

When we find we carry PTSD’s soul wound, we may feel as if we have betrayed ourselves, ashamed, or weak.  Many of us grew up on John Wayne movies and “the Duke” didn’t get PTSD on the big screen.  More’s the pity, as it may have given many of us permission to be fully human and not to try and suppress the portion of ourselves that felt most deeply.

We May Change Our Minds

We may have been initially been diagnosed with PTSD.  When we see how society and the military command structures treat those with PTSD or who are tempted by suicide, we may change our minds and deny we had been affected by trauma.

If we see how careers may stop or how someone is called “weak” we may decide that it is too risky to admit to being affected by traumatic stress.

We Remain Accountable

If we engage in negative behaviors that attempt to soften the PTSD pain, we remain accountable for those behaviors.

Striving for “Normal”

Often in the first months after a trauma (and for the military this would be a redeployment back to the States) we may try to force a sense of normalcy back into our lives at a faster rate than it would come naturally.  Fast engagements and quick marriages may result.  In general we are taught that marriage, parenthood, and owning a big mortgage are hallmarks of stability and normalcy.  We may try to prove to ourselves that we are ”normal” and not affected by PTSD by rushing into various relationships too fast.

We may jettison our earlier relationships because the PTSD tells us that we have nothing in common anymore.  The person who left is not the person who came back.  The relationships that were firm when we left, may (but, not always) feel adequate when we return.  We may seek out people who are just as damaged as we are in the mistaken feeling that this will justify our PTSD behaviors.

The more harshly old relationships are damaged, and the more quickly that new pre-damaged relationships are entered into, then the harder it is to find out who we really are, to find out what my real identity is.

When trapped by the PTSD-Identity: I would feel as if my identity was shaped by trauma, helplessness, betrayal, regret, every step cursed…such is a portion of the PTSD journey.

Why do we deny we may be afflicted with PTSD?

A. We just honestly don’t know that we have it (and commanders and NCOs fail us when they don’t notice it for us).  We feel trapped by these seemingly inexplicable changes going on inside of us.  Usually, we can’t even describe it in words.

B. I may know something is wrong.  It may even match up with this PTSD stuff I hear about.  But I know that America does not really care.  Because, like repeated episodes of gun violence, the grown-ups wring their hands and cry, and then do nothing that helps.  Sometimes the trauma has taught us not to trust.  Other times when we see how the grown-ups react to serious situations, what they are willing to let happen without significant change, then we learn that they cannot be trusted with our wounds either.  Since PTSD is a soul wound, we are especially careful who we will trust with our souls.

Why Might we Reject Love and Healthy relationships?

A. We may reject those we have loved because our ability to trust and love have been damaged…after all, we are talking about a wound to our soul.  PTSD may have convinced us that we never were really in love before.  In this way it retrojects the shame, fear, anger, and mistrust backwards into our former relationships.

B. We may feel that we are no longer lovable.  Best to cut people off and attempt a clean break.  Usually we don’t know the mechanics of this when we are busy doing it.

C. We may just be jerks or dickweeds plain and simple, with or without PTSD.

Your mileage may vary.

Alas, I have not done this topic justice. 

Parts of this are over-written and other parts are underwritten.  But sometimes a sleep-deprived shoddy draft may be better than remaining silent on a live topic.

With any luck we will all sleep a bit better tonight…maybe I had some more of my own bitterness to get out by writing, who knows for sure?

There is no truth in PTSD denial.  Ultimately, we should strive for truth, the common good.  Regardless of the challenges our society poses, we still need to find the courage and love to seek help.  If in doubt about PTSD, seek help. 

Not every set of symptoms adds up to PTSD, but you won’t know if you don’t find out.  If you deny, then you encourage the PTSD to ruin your life and the lives of others.  You and those who care about you are more important.  You have value.

But, if you suffer from PTSD or not, you always have value, you are always constantly being created by love in the image and likeness of God.

Semper Pax, Dr. Z

Comments

  1. anonymous says:

    the problem is in the way that it’s treated in the first place. Like there is a one size fits all effectiveness technique. When sometimes it’s just beyond the scope of any mental health care profesionals, because they already fractured the identity of the very people they swear to protect. When you have traumatic experiences related to the mental health branch in general. That’s the problem with C-PTSD especially. not so much PTSD.

    • Hi Anon,
      There is no one size fits all treatment or cure. Since we are each unique individuals we may have similar but still different paths to travel for our own possibilities of healing, or maybe just for coping from day to day.
      I am a big believer in what I call “Non-Specific Solutions.” While there are usually solutions (if we can find them), the solutions are not cookie cutter, one size fits all, solutions. While a broken leg can usually be treated by physicians in a consistent way, such is not always the case with PTSD/C-PTSD.
      In my own experience, the medical and mental health practitioners can be a plus or minus when it comes to PTSD diagnosis and treatment. Some of them are a blessing, whilst others have been a curse.
      Feel free to write me at the email on the Contact Page if you like.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  2. I’m not sure if you have or have not done this topic justice, but it did affect me emotionally. I have experienced a few events that others may find traumatic yet I’ve shrugged them all off believing that we all go through life having to face ugly happenings. I was first diagnosed with PTSD at 14 and offered treatment. I laughed it off and have been diagnosed several more times and ignored those also. However I am now a 40 year old single mum who for the past 2 years has been hospitalized due to agonizing abdominal pain and dramatic weight loss. My body has been thoroughly tested with no results. My doctor was baffled. She queried my past and was very quick to tell me that she is almost certain I have PTSD. I went home and cried for two days trying to accept that something isn’t quite right with my mind. I don’t think about my past so I’m finding it difficult to accept that I may be in denial. However I become physically ill and I look like a rake with no apparent cause. I asked myself ” Is it possible to deny such stress?”. That is how I stumbled on your eye opening article. Thank you for showing me the light. I am more inclined to seek help. Digging through dark memories that I have been locking up is going to be very painful, but I’m afraid that my mind has been trying to kill my body. My 13 year old son only sees a happy go lucky mum as I put on that mask of sanity. Though he wants answers why I get so ill. I can’t go on like this.A part of me is angry for reading your words because my fear has been confirmed. I don’t want to revisit the past. Though that is exactly what my psychiatrist expects of me. Thank you sincerely for your help.

    • Hello Alexandra,I am glad you are more inclined to seek help. It is not unusual for some with PTSD to paint a happy-go-lucky facade for the consumption of others. It creates a shield where we think we are protecting others as well as ourselves. While not everyone is worthy of the tale of our trauma, we need not deny it 100% to all others.
      PTSD wants us to do anything which will damage our relationships. One of the ways it does so is to encourage us to deny we have PTSD. Your 13 year old son is probably too young to hear the factual report of what traumas you experienced. But if seeking professional assistance with your PTSD ultimately makes you healthier, then you can frame your recovery journey in light of wanting to be there for your son in the long run. Kids can sniff out stress even when we say everything is fine and our stress can cause them stress. He does not need to know the blow by blow of your trauma, but by seeking professional assistance not only will your life be able to improve, so will his.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  3. Dr. Z

    Thanks for this entry and all of the postings on your site. I have learned from them and continue to re-read in order to gather deeper understanding.

    My husband is a Post-911 Combat Veteran who was diagnosed with PTSD in 2005. He refuses treatment to this day. I have watched him degenerate over the years. His fail safe coping mechanisms are alcohol abuse and extra marital affairs….other adrenaline seeking behaviors endure as well such as motorcycles and fast driving.

    We’ve tried to work through the affair piece each time I find out. He promises to stop after denying any wrong doing, then compulsively lies to cover his tracks. He continues to seek new relationships with other women.

    He began with verbal abuse that has turned physical the past few years. This is an occasional punch, strangle or spit in the face. I am usually the target, however, recently, his siblings and mother have been as well just after his father suddenly passed away in January. They have cut all contact with him.

    He is getting worse.

    I fear for my children and for myself. I know if I leave him his abandonment issues will complicate things. I know if I don’t, I will end up a stastic some day soon. I loved him but he is not himself since he got home. He only gets further from it.

    I have encouraged treatment. He refuses. I know I can’t force him.

    What can I do?

    • Hello, The physical safety of you and your children are paramount.
      If physical abuse has already started, even if only on what seems an occasional basis, then you would be well advised to have some safety plans for you and your children. These sorts of plans may be finding out where there are women’s shelters in your area, and/or making some arrangements with a female friend that you have a place to retreat to. It is wise to have some cash money socked away in case you need a hotel without much warning. External family members can be anything from very helpful to verbalizing total denial about these sorts of things and you would know best if family is a viable option. Essentially, you need to have some contingency plans in place to assure the physical safety of you and your children. Sometimes bringing a soldier’s commander or the chaplain into the picture can help, other times it might stir things up worse. Much depends on how much the unit commanders really care as opposed to just saying they do…some do care, others don’t.
      It sounds like you have tried to team up with your husband to patch up the wounds that have been inflicted on the marriage. You are right, you cannot “force” him to seek help. In some cases, the spouse and children have to love the other parent from a safe distance, if being too close is too risky. You are also right that you run the risk of becoming a statistic.
      While abandonment issues can exacerbate his problems, you are not called on to become a statistic so he can keep at his current range of behavior.
      I strongly urge you to talk to a woman’s shelter type counselor face to face, and if not face to face, at least by phone. They will have other ways to help.
      PTSD can cause us to do hurtful and spiteful things, but we remain responsible for those actions. PTSD is never an excuse to get a free pass to be abusive or have affairs.
      I hope some of this helped. Feel free to write me using the information from the Contact Page on this website. That said, I still strongly encourage you to create contingency plans and speak to a female counselor (hopefully face to face) who is wiser than I am about these sorts of situations.
      We will keep you and your family in prayer. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

      • Dr.Z, I’m going to take this article into my therapist. I have been receiving PTSD treatment thru EMDR for a year. But last week after receiving it I became very upset. I didn’t want to tell my therapist my thoughts because I was ashamed. However, I have promised myself no matter what my struggles were…I wld be honest BC I have spent so many lying to myself and others. I had to tell her that I sometimes want to look at her and hatefully say things like, “I don’t believe you when u say I have PTSD. Every time u say this out loud to me I want to rage, but I feel ashamed for lashing out, so I dont. Stop saying this.” I was pretty upset w myself for having acceptance and receiving good treatment that had been providing relief for over a year and now I had complete denial and almost wanted to blame her. For some reason I suddenly doubted the truth I had accepted regarding sexual abuse as a child, violence against me growing up and into adulthood, serious IV drug addiction that rendered me homeless and in jail. I had even understood the drug rehab I entered almost did not accept me BC they didn’t know if they had the resources to help me get better. Of course, as always, I turned inward on myself and felt ashamed and concerned about how it why I wld do this. But ur article, in some simple beautiful way, granted my soul permission to receive the gift of recovery again. It touched on many truths of fear I was experiencing: maybe I was a drama queen and these traumas r not really that bad; that I shld grow up and get over it; fear that eventually my therapist wld change her mind and tell me everything about me was fake- feelings, thoughts behavior. Such relief from ur article that this was normal and the more recovery I seek…the more recovery I will find. Thank u!

        • Hello Brandy,
          You have been through more than people should ever have to experience. To your immense credit, you recognize the necessity to treat your PTSD. It is not an easy decision to acknowledge a wound or to seek to remedy that wound. Our society usually only gives lip service to wanting to help those who suffer PTSD. They tend to be even more dismissive of women, especially physical and sexual violence against girls and women. It takes character and integrity to seek out the assistance and treatment you have engaged.
          I am honored you find this essay useful and worthwhile enough to share with your therapist. Thank you for that.
          Semper Pax, Dr. Z

Leave a Reply